Far from being the saviour of the Conservatives, ‘Whitby Woman’ could prove to be their nemesis - Andrew Vine

It would be interesting to ask the female voters of Whitby how they feel about holding the fate of the Conservatives in their hands. I’d bet most would be a little taken aback at being identified as the people who will make all the difference between an electoral wipeout, a respectable defeat or even a hung Parliament.

Take a bow ‘Whitby Woman’, for you are centre stage in the drama of the general election.

Or at least you are according to the think-tank More in Common, which has defined Whitby Woman as a voter in her late 50s or early 60s who lives at the coast, supported Brexit and voted for Boris Johnson in 2019, but is now undecided.

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She has always leaned towards the Conservatives, and if she sticks with them the party will avoid a Labour landslide. More in Common thinks the Tories are gearing policies towards her, with the announcement on national service and guarantees on protecting pensions.

Whitby pictured in 2019. PIC: Tony Johnson.Whitby pictured in 2019. PIC: Tony Johnson.
Whitby pictured in 2019. PIC: Tony Johnson.

Whitby Woman takes her place in a long line of electoral stereotypes, and though the town’s real voters may roll their eyes at being defined as such, there is truth in the characterisation.

Previous stereotypes have proved uncannily accurate pointers to the mood among the electorate, and so will Whitby Woman.

Remember ‘Workington Man’ from 2019, the northern male who voted for Brexit and switched his traditional allegiance from Labour to the Conservatives to deliver a series of stunning red wall victories?

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Or ‘Worcester Woman’ from 2001, the Tory who decided she’d back Tony Blair instead because he’d done a good job in his first term?

And maybe best-remembered of all is ‘Mondeo Man’ from 1997, the young, upwardly-mobile professional wooed by Labour in the run-up to its landslide, a voter doing well enough in his career to have a Ford Mondeo parked on the driveway of his smart suburban home, and for whom the slogan that things can only get better summed up his ambition and optimism.

So from her home in Yorkshire’s most historic seaside town, watching the debates between Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer, and weighing up their rival manifestos to be published this week, Whitby Woman wields considerable influence.

As do all the many other Whitby Women living along Yorkshire’s 120 miles of coastline between the Tees and the Humber, which could be a glimmer of hope in a mostly gloomy outlook for the Conservatives.

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Or then again, it might be just the opposite, because Whitby Woman has an awful lot to be angry about with the party.

As a resident of the coast, she knows the seaside towns that present such a cheery face to their summer visitors can look very different to the people who live there.

On every index of deprivation, coastal communities score badly.

Health provision is more thinly-spread than in the cities an hour’s drive inland, and in the case of NHS dentistry, virtually non-existent.

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Whitby Woman knows only too well that this has been the case for years and the Government has done nothing to improve matters.

Levelling up has been a let-down for the whole of Yorkshire, but nowhere has felt that failure more keenly than the coast.

In Whitby – and elsewhere on the coast - there has been public anger at the shortage of properties to rent because so many have been turned into holiday lets, and young buyers are still being priced out by people snapping up second homes that stand empty for large parts of the year, inexorably hollowing-out communities as the number of permanent residents declines.

Her children may well be forced to move away in search of work and somewhere to live, and she might have grandchildren who are graduating from university with debts of £30,000.

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It isn’t only the plight of the young which worries Whitby Woman. As someone in her 50s or 60s, she could have elderly parents who are waiting months for hospital treatment or struggling at home because they can’t get the social care they need or afford to pay for it themselves.

Maybe most worrying for the Conservatives is that Whitby Woman is nobody’s fool. She won’t forget Boris Johnson turning out to be a liar and charlatan, Liz Truss making her mortgage more expensive or being duped over the vaunted benefits of Brexit that haven’t materialised. The party she supported has even let the sea become fouled with sewage.

Extravagant promises won’t wash with her. More in Common is right. Whitby Woman, wherever she lives, is absolutely central to the outcome of the election, but far from being the saviour of the Conservatives, she could prove to be their nemesis.

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